Gentle Battle is the debut solo exhibition of Paris based artist, DJ, producer and performer Christelle Oyiri (b.France, 1992). Weaving together forgotten mythologies and the political nature of dance music, Oyiris work looks for alternative ways to understand and un-braid the complex knot of history, identity and experience.
Gentle Battle charts a path through these often clouded waters, a guided journey conceived as a series of time-spaces in which we are invited to dwell and reflect. Through symbolic elements as diverse as a mirror, an elephant tusk, a four-poster bed, and a karaoke booth, Oyiri generates doors, capsules and portals to other realities in which stories slip into histories - modern mythologies that mix and remix personal and collective experiences.
From Ivorian and Guadeloupean descent, Oyiris identity is shaped by the diplomatic, social, and metaphysical conflicts inherited from colonization, and the trickle-down effect it has on cultural behaviours, familial history, and the experience of a wider African diaspora.
With this conflict in mind, and specifically in the context of The Ivory Coast and the 2002 military coup and ensuing war, Oyiris work asks; How does warfare display itself? In the most insidious and gracious manners: in our breaths, in our bodies, in our psyche, in our lineages, in our sound and in our music.
In Gentle Battle, Christelle Oyiri becomes her own archivist, creating moments for personal reflection and remembrance. Likening the exhibition to an album, she moves lightly and sometimes humorously across different historical and autobiographical positions, creating an intimate and kaleidoscopic dreamscape which invites us to reflect on the possibility of unlearning, insight and healing.
In the exhibition, Vindicta is a series of masks from the Kru ethnic group (Ivory Coast/Liberia), engraved on backlit domestic mirrors. Vindicta operates as a hall of mirrors reflecting on ownership and critiquing the continued legacy of colonialism in the collections of Western Institutions - the etched photos are pictures of stolen masks, part of the numerous African objects and artworks pillaged during colonisation.
Meanwhile, Tusk of Zegui is a monumental sculpture made of polyurethane foam and embellished with gold leaf. The tusk is an exact replica from a 3D scan of a tusk recovered from a 1700s slave ship, the Henrietta Marie. These tusks have maintained their general shape and are quite recognizable, but their surfaces are pitted and discoloured from their long underwater immersion.
War! Club! Action! can be seen as the centrepiece of the exhibition space. This video installation recreates an intimate karaoke booth where a 3-part video is screened, moving between a fictional TV talk show, a eulogy and an actual karaoke video. War! Club! Action! is an ode to Douk Saga (1974-2006), the creator of the Ivorian-French musical genre called Coupé Décalé.
Lahan (or Dje) means money in nouchi Ivorian-French creole. Lahan! is a series of fake CFA Franc bills produced by risograph and distributed amongst the exhibition space. As a former French colony, the Ivory Coast has not minted its own currency following Frances creation of the French Colonies of Africa (CFA) Franc currency in the wake of World War II. With help from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, this exploitative system of monetary control has allowed France to farm a vast African territory for strategic resources and secure lucrative export markets. Historically, the CFA system has also generated additional revenue for France by requiring CFA nations to deposit initially 100 percent and, in recent years, 50 percent of their reserves into Frances Treasury where it has served as productive interest-bearing capital. As much as CFA Franc controversial is a symbol of Ivory Coasts lack of sovereignty, Ivorian club-goers still use it as a celebratory artifact by throwing them in the air in the club, during an Atalaku, at a wedding or any other ceremony.
Warrior Rest/Sleep Paralysis is a new version of Christelle Oyiris piece Sleep Paralysis, a king size Canopy bed made of pear tree wood, epoxy resin, and a built-in LED lights system as well as silk drapery. The bed becomes a site of of placelessness and restlessness its symbolic occupier being a warrior (le guerrier) who desires for calm and rest after the fight but is haunted by flashes of a violent past few can know or relate to.
Sum Deaths Take 4ever is a sculpture made of plasticine and chainmail. A tribute to Bernard Szajners debut album Some deaths take forever. Originally released in 1980, the album is a deeply emotional, sometimes disturbing musical account of the feelings of a prisoner on death row, conceived as the soundtrack to a short film by Amnesty International. The album is battleground music, a true musical epic poem it mixes dark, angular and unnerving electronic textures with dynamic rock arrangements and includes guest musicians such as Bernard Paganotti from Magma. Oyiri started a correspondence with Szajner during the pandemic, exchanging ideas about conceptualism in music, protest music survival and trauma as Szajner is a WWII/Holocaust survivor.
Both a tribute to an artist and a reference to fandoms, the sculpture mirrors the original poster for Some deaths take forever stuck to the wall near the Sleep Paralysis sculpture in turn becoming a reference to a heavily decorated 1990s teenage bedroom.
The wider Collective Amnesia project is illustrative of Christelles capacity to highlight prescient discourse within digital image culture, making visible forgotten histories of dance, migration and music culture emerging from Ivory Coast and 21st Century France. Collective Amnesia (2018-22) sets out to consciously re-discover Logobi an Ivorian local folk dance that became, for a short time, a working class black French youth phenomenon in Pariss banlieues (suburbs) in the late 2000s-early 2010s. The film includes 3D, found footage/archives and actual shots directed by Oyiri as it humorously follows teenagers going through the steps of preparation leading to a Logobi dance battle.
2002 is a three metre folding screen sculpture with gold finishing. The folding screen is divided into three boards displaying a fresco of Oyiris family pictures. While political tensions had been growing since the early 1990s, they became utterly destructive on September 19th, 2002 when a rebel army from the North attempted a coup demanding proper representation of residents from the North of the country in the national government. 2002 is also crucial in Oyiris personal history it was the last year she was in Ivory Coast before her return nineteen years later. And it was the year some of her family members were forced out of the country. The folding screen becomes a testimony of that time and of the family history, their relationship to war and the Army (As Oyiris grandfather served France during the Indochina war and her father was a young corporal in the Ivorian Army before illegally immigrating to France). How to process the trauma of a war that wasnt named as such? How to heal when your participation and sacrifice are barely acknowledged? The room divider becomes a metaphor for an ultimate barrier to intimacy, the thin veil before the naked truth, a bulwark both inviting and hiding veracity. But it is also an allegory of the separation the country has suffered for many years, separation anxiety and separation of a nation.